State’s sex-offender tracking broken

Eleven registered sex offenders in San Francisco and four in San Mateo County are living at state-licensed facilities that care for children, mentally disabled persons and the elderly. Seven of those facilities are believed to be child care centers such as foster homes and day care facilities.

This shocking news surfaced when the Bureau of State Audits compared addresses onthe Department of Justice database of registered sex offenders with the addresses of all 75,000 facilities licensed by the Department of Social Services. Some of the sex offenders living at licensed homes were even currently on supervised parole.

The Social Services Department quickly suspended licenses of 10 Southern California child care facilities where registered sex offenders were found residing last week. Officials said there is no immediate indication that any children were abused.

Naturally it is already illegal for those convicted of sex crimes to reside in licensed California facilities where particularly vulnerable populations are served. Day care and foster care licensees are required to report the names of all adults living in or associated with their facilities, so that Social Services can conduct background checks.

Obviously this entire system of purported safeguards has broken down. At-home day care operators or foster parents possibly don’t understand their responsibilities under the law. Or else they simply choose not to risk their licenses, since they are unlikely to get caught anyway. When a troubled cousin comes seeking help, or renting a spare room brings needed income, it is easy to forget about filing all the required paperwork.

The audit report’s primary recommendation is that the state departments of justice and social services should link their databases to automatically reveal when sex offenders are living at the addresses of licensed homes. Most of the California sex-offender databases are unreliable and there is no way to know how many more violators might not be registered.

Assembly members Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, and Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia, were appalled by the auditors’ findings. They are now drafting legislation to strengthen California’s long-term supervision of resident sex offenders.

Ma and Adams want an audit of all state departments and consolidation of their sex-offender databases to put registration, investigation and enforcement all under one jurisdiction. Ma complained that right now trying to correlate all the statewide offender information is like “looking for a needle in a haystack.”

It is truly astonishing that California authorities could have allowed such a dangerous situation to slip through the cracks. What is the point of licensing care facilities and registering sex offenders if that does not help keep our weakest residents safe? The Bureau of State Audits deserves thanks for bringing this mind-boggling abuse to light.

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